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Tags: Barack Obama

‘A Vote for [Democratic Candidate Here] Is a Vote for Obama’s Failed Agenda.’



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More ads unveiled today:

Freedom Partners Action Fund, a free-market Super PAC, is launching a $6.5 million ad campaign designed to deliver a clear closing argument that a vote for the Democratic candidate in several states is a vote for President Obama’s failed agenda. The ads will air in Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, and online in New Hampshire . . . 

The ads all involve the general theme that the incumbent hasn’t earned the vote of the state, and tie the Democratic candidate to Obama, but they tailor their criticism to the particular flaws of each Democratic candidate. Here’s the one hitting Bruce Braley in Iowa:

The one hitting Mark Begich in Alaska:

The one hitting Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire:

The one hitting Kay Hagan in North Carolina:

Tags: Barack Obama , Kay Hagan , Bruce Braley , Jeanne Shaheen , Mark Begich

White House in Coverup of Obama’s Unpaid Bills



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In the midst of a confrontation over censorship between pool reporters and the White House, the Obama administration Monday night disappeared a section of the president’s comments at a fundraiser in Chicago.

“One of the nice things about being home is actually that it’s a little bit like a time capsule,” the president said at an event Monday evening at the Windy City home of supporter Barbara Manilow. “Because Michelle and I and the kids, we left so quickly that there’s still junk on my desk, including some unpaid bills (laughter) — I think eventually they got paid — but they’re sort of stacked up. And messages, newspapers and all kinds of stuff.”  

The president’s joke, transcribed by pool reporter Jennifer Epstein of Politico, appears to be an innocuous if lame attempt to position the man in control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal as just a regular Joe like you and me. But it was a collection agency too far for the White House press office, which removed it from the White House transcript.

“​The White House’s transcript of tonight’s DNC fundraiser omits the president’s reference to unpaid bills being stacked up on his desk at home in Chicago,” Epstein wrote in a followup pool dispatch. “I included a partial quote in the pool report earlier, but in the interest of transparency, especially since this was a print pool only event, I’m sharing the full quote, as I transcribed and checked just now, and as it was in the transcript. Thanks to AP’s Josh Lederman for pointing out the discrepancy.”

In the official White House transcript, the president’s comment reads: “there’s still junk on my desk, including some — newspapers and all kinds of stuff.​”

The elision comes as the White House’s overbearing efforts to control the flow of information about the president have alienated a formerly friendly press corps. Pool reporters are bristling at White House demands for changes to pool reports, and a group of poolers are experimenting with other avenues of distribution for the reports, which now are distributed through a White House server.

In fact, Obama’s unpaid bills are considerably higher than could be contained in a few bills on a desk in Chicago. The federal government’s unfunded liabilities are estimated to be anywhere between $84 trillion and $220 trillion, while the Treasury Department estimates total federal debt outstanding at $17.9 trillion.

Tags: White House , Barack Obama

Who Is Cousin Pookie? White House Won’t Say



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“You’ve got to get that Cousin Pookie sitting at home on the couch,” President Obama urged Democrats Sunday. “He’s watching football right now instead of being here at the rally. You’ve got to talk to him and let him know it is not that hard to exercise the franchise that previous generations fought so hard to obtain.”

The president’s speech in support of Maryland gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown had many Democrats heading for the exits, and it’s easy to see why, given Obama’s eleventh-hour reachback to Cousin Pookie, a stock character who, along with Uncle Jethro and Ray Ray, has been showing up in Obama’s speeches since long before he was president.

“If Cousin Pookie would vote, if Uncle Jethro would get off the couch and stop watching SportsCenter and go register some folks and go to the polls, we might have a different kind of politics,” then-Senator Obama told a crowd in Selma, Ala., in early 2007.

So just who are these layabouts the president seems to believe are in the social networks of his most ardent supporters? ABC’s Rick Klein calls Pookie and company “the president’s chuckle-inducing way of getting African-American crowds to bring their disconnected friends and relatives to the polls.”

Urban Dictionary defines “pookie” variously as a romantic term of endearment and a general nickname of affection, but also as slang for a crack pipe. In the 1991 film New Jack City, comedy superstar Chris Rock played a doomed crackhead and petty criminal named Pookie who acts as a snitch for a police officer played by Ice-T. Among the various works of graffiti on the municipal buses this reporter used to take to and from an urban high school was the phrase “Pookie Pumpkin BKA Rufus T. Firefly” — a common indication that a particular person wanted to adopt (“be known as”) a new identity (in this case a character played by Groucho Marx in the movie Duck Soup). But I never located anybody claiming to be that individual. The name is also occasionally used as a diminutive for Paul.

So who is Pookie? Why, after six solid years of the Obama economy, has he taken Uncle Jethro’s place on the couch, and does that mean Uncle Jethro has moved on to some more active lifestyle? In fact, why are these characters always described as being “on the couch” on Election Day, rather than, for example, working, attending classes, doing charitable deeds, or spending quality time with family members? Is the name a reference to Chris Rock’s character, and if so, is Obama concerned about negative role models? Has the president ever actually known anybody with the name or nickname “Pookie”?

The White House press office did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for answers to these questions.

Tags: Barack Obama , 2014 Midterms

Maybe All Those Obama Supporters Left the Iron On



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Says it all, doesn’t it?

This is Maryland. Maryland. Obama won this state 62 percent to 36 percent. And even here, the magic is gone; the report says the crowd started leaving while he was still speaking.

Think about it — these are people who drove out to attend the event who chose to leave early.

Tags: Barack Obama , Maryland

A Familiar Pattern Continues



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Today the Centers for Disease Control admitted that the second Dallas health-care worker who was found to have the Ebola virus should not have boarded a commercial jet, particularly because she had a fever of 99.5 degrees when she boarded the flight. The CDC said it wanted to speak to the passengers who were on her flights.

At this moment, you may recall that August 29, President Obama assured us, “our experts, here at the CDC and across our government, agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low.”

Or you may remember CDC director Tom Frieden pledging, “We will stop it in its tracks.”

This is a familiar pattern of statements and behavior from this administration, but with much higher consequences. We’re always being assured that the situation isn’t as bad as it looked.

August 9: “Because Israel is so capable militarily, I don’t worry about Israel’s survival.”

In May, “Our ability to mobilize international opinion rapidly has changed the balance and the equation in Ukraine.”

In January, he scoffed, that ISIS is the “JV squad.”

Back in September 24, 2012, he assured us that Benghazi terror attack was a “bump in the road.”

June 8, 2012, the private sector is “doing fine.”

People who already have health insurance “don’t have to worry.”

High gas prices and increases in the unemployment rate are, similarly, just “bumps in the road.”

Sometimes the assurances use the same trite terms . . . 

“The system worked,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano after the attempted bombing of a flight over Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.

“The system worked,” said Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health after the first nurse tested positive for Ebola.

Tags: Barack Obama , CDC

Obama Cancels Fundraiser for Meeting on Ebola



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And you thought nothing could get President Obama to cancel his attendance at a Democratic Party fundraiser!

The White House has announced that President Barack Obama has cancel his Wednesday trips to Connecticut and New Jersey. Obama plans hold a meeting with the Cabinet about Ebola.

On the one hand, good. On the other hand… just how bad is the situation if it’s enough to get Obama cancelling partisan political events?

Tags: Barack Obama , Ebola

Git-R-Done America vs. Washington



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From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Git-R-Done America vs. Washington

You work hard. You pay what you think is more than enough in taxes. The economy hasn’t really felt good since 2008, but you managed to get by. If you’ve got a 401(k), it’s grown in the past few years – but the real estate bubble burned you, and the dot-com bubble burned you before that. You know that nice sum in your 401(k) could plummet without warning. What you would really like is a nice better job, so you could feel better about the amount of income coming in every month.

You’re trying to play all of your roles – worker, parent, sibling, child, friend, neighbor, parishioner, and somehow find time to take care of yourself so you don’t keel over from a heart attack. It’s tough. Time is at a premium. Speaking of which, your insurer announced your premiums are going up again. You’ve been thinking of trading in the old car, but you’re not so sure you could handle new car payments and the higher premiums.

But you get up every day and you take care of everything that needs care, because that’s who you are and what you do. You get it done. You take some pride in that. You look at your loved ones, your friends and neighbors, your colleagues, and you know that they know that they can count on you.

You kind of wonder about everybody else, though.

What’s with the Centers for Disease Control? They keep telling you “we’re going to stop Ebola in its tracks here” and then there are new cases. The NIH director seems to think he’s reassuring us by telling us “the system worked” as we learn about new infections. Then there’s that enterovirus 68 floating around, killing kids. Terrifying, heartbreaking. Hey, guys, maybe a little less time studying gun control and a little more time spent on, you know, disease control? That’s your job.

What’s going on with everybody who’s supposed to be protecting us? First Obama says “We don’t have a strategy yet” – why not? Don’t we spend billions, even trillions, on national security agencies, intelligence agencies and a Department of Defense? Isn’t somebody in those vast, expensive organizations supposed to come up with a strategy? Then he said “they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria” – isn’t that their job? Wasn’t anybody watching?

Now they’re saying the airstrikes over in Iraq and Syria aren’t doing enough, and ISIS is knocking on the door of Baghdad. Sunday morning, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said we’re not reassessing our strategy. Well, shouldn’t somebody? Just in case? Doesn’t anybody over there believe in having a Plan B? Isn’t that the job of a national security advisor?

How the hell did the top guys at the Department of Veterans Affairs not know about the wait lists and that veterans were dying, waiting for care? That’s their job.

How the heck did the federal government AND so many state governments manage to spend so much money and not build insurance-exchange websites that worked? That was their job.

The president keeps insisting that test scores are up and that college attendance is up, when it’s actually been the opposite. Obviously, the public schools aren’t good enough for his kids. He promised the moon when it came to improving schools back in 2008. Wasn’t that his job?

In your life, failure is not an option. If you don’t pick up the kids from school, they’re stuck there. If you don’t go shop for groceries, the kids don’t eat. All around you, every day, you see things that have to get done, and you do them. You don’t tell the kids, “well, our intentions were good. We tried. We had some glitches.” You don’t get to blame your predecessor or the opposition party. You don’t get to tell them, or your spouse, or your boss, that the situation is the same, as normal, and that they’re “just noticing now because of social media.”

Where is this “get it done” attitude in Washington? Every time you turn around, it’s some new excuse. Americans do not accept this kind of incompetence and unaccountability in their personal and professional lives. Why should they accept it from Washington?

Tags: Washington , Barack Obama , Culture , Bureaucrats

Obama Repeats His False Boasts About Test Scores Improving



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Last night, at the $15,000-per-dinner Democratic fundraiser at Gwyneth Paltrow’s house, President Obama once again said, “Math scores up. Reading scores up. College attendance up.

As I pointed out last week, that is false, false, false. Math scores are stagnant and reading scores are slightly worse than previous years, and the number of students attending college has declined the past two years. At the very best, Obama is citing outdated statistics. At worst, he’s just saying what he wants to be true.

This may not win “Lie of the Year” or be the biggest falsehood Obama delivers in his standard fund-raising speech, but it should matter. The president goes around from millionaire’s house to millionaire’s house, insisting that schools are getting better when the evidence suggests otherwise. His casual repeating of the claim, and the widespread acceptance of the assertion, exposes that so many of politicians’ pledges on schools, education, and children are absolute feel-good, substance-free horsepuckey — “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.”

If you really care about school performance, you check to see how they’re actually doing. If you really care about whether kids are learning, you acknowledge the problems honestly. If you really care, you admit when the approach isn’t working, or the evidence of success isn’t conclusive.

Barack Obama and Gwyneth Paltrow and all of those wealthy Obama donors don’t really care. They just want to feel good about themselves.

Life always seems cheerier at those high-dollar California fundraisers.

Tags: Barack Obama , Education

The Hardened Cocoon of Entitlement Around Our National Elites



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In today’s Morning Jolt:

President Obama Reaches Out to Working Moms like Gwyneth Paltrow

Of course:

[Hollywood star Gwyneth] Paltrow called the president’s push for equal pay “very important to me as a working mother.”

Even Politico couldn’t stifle a chuckle at the irony in her remarks, held at a $1,000 per ticket — $15,000 for dinner — DNC fundraiser at Paltrow’s house:

Gwyneth Paltrow wants President Barack Obama to know: she’s just like everyone else.

She makes $16 million per movie, sure, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not worried about Obama getting equal pay legislation through Congress.

Caleb Howe notes Paltrow’s reference to herself as “a working mother” and adds, “after which the collective guffaw from armies of au pairs and nannies in LA and Manhattan briefly set the planet Earth off its rotational axis.”

Politico helpfully reminded readers of the last time Paltrow discussed her particular difficulties and challenges as a “working mother”, and why they’re so much more difficult for her than non-celebrity moms:

Paltrow took heat earlier this year when, announcing her “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay singer Chris Martin, she cited the strains on their marriage that she said were “much harder for me” than the average working parent.

“I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening,” Paltrow said then.

There is a hardened cocoon of entitlement, self-absorption, and self-pity around many of our national elites.

Any gender pay disparities at Stark Industries?

Tags: Barack Obama , Gwyneth Paltrow

‘While ISIS Grew, Obama Did Nothing. Hagan Did Cocktails.’



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Over on the Corner, our Joel Gehrke details how Senator Kay Hagan, North Carolina Democrat, admitted after a debate earlier this week that she attended a fundraiser rather than a classified hearing on the threat of ISIS.

But not just any fundraiser. A cocktail party. If this happened in a novel, you would roll your eyes at the cliché.

Earlier, we examined Thom Tillis’s folksy, quasi-biographical ads that had run through late September, and wondered aloud if they were tough enough.

Take a look at Thom Tillis’s tough ad: “Cocktail party.”

“Hagan admits she prioritized a cocktail party to benefit her campaign. While ISIS grew, Obama did nothing. Hagan did cocktails. To change policies, change your senator.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Thom Tillis , Kay Hagan , ISIS

Obama May Simply Ignore Congress on Guantanamo Bay



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President Obama prepares for impending Republican control of Congress by taking an additional step to ensure Congress no longer has a role in writing national policy.

The White House is drafting options that would allow President Barack Obama to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by overriding a congressional ban on bringing detainees to the U.S., senior administration officials said.

Such a move would be the latest and potentially most dramatic use of executive power by the president in his second term. It would likely provoke a sharp reaction from lawmakers, who have repeatedly barred the transfer of detainees to the U.S.

There is no wiggle room on this one; the position of a strong majority of Congress is exceedingly clear. Back in 2009, the Democrat-controlled Senate voted 90 to 6 to remove funding for the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to U.S. facilities. Every defense authorization bill since then has included language banning the transfer of the prisoners to the United States.

Nor is Congress defying the public’s will on this issue:

Twenty-nine percent of Americans support closing the terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and moving its prisoners to U.S. prisons, while two in three (66%) oppose the idea. . . . Despite the president’s continued commitment to its closure, Americans’ views have not changed much in the four times Gallup has asked them about this issue.

But a second-term president in his final two years, who’s already suffered losses in the midterms, can’t be punished any further at the ballot box after Louisiana’s runoff. After that, he’ll just do what he pleases, regardless of Congress or public opinion, certain that history will judge him as the right one.

Those Greek columns at the 2008 Denver Democratic National Convention really were fit for a king, weren’t they?

Tags: Barack Obama , Guantanamo Bay

‘Mark Udall and Barack Obama Golf Together . . .’



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“Freedom Partners Action Fund” unveils a new ad hitting Senator Mark Udall; they’ll be spending $1.5 million to show this in Colorado:

Tags: Mark Udall , Barack Obama , Colorado

Obama’s False Boasts on Education Progress



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President Obama tells his audiences that things are going well, regardless of the facts.

The president, speaking at a DNC fundraiser last night:

On the education front, we’ve seen the high school dropout rate go down, college enrollment rate go up, reading scores and math scores going up.

The truth on test scores:

American high school seniors showed no improvement in their math and reading abilities in four years, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often known as the nation’s “report card.”

Adding to the discouraging news, achievement gaps between demographic groups have not lessened. And while the 12th-grade math scores are at least slightly higher than they were in 2005 (the earliest scores available for math, due to changes in the test), the reading scores are actually lower than they were in 1992, when the reading score trend line begins.

New numbers on college enrollment come out later this month, but according to the fall 2013 numbers, college enrollment is sliding:

Overall college enrollment fell for the second year in a row in 2013, from about 20.2 million students in the fall of 2012 to about 19.9 million this year, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse.

College enrollment also dropped in 2012, after increasing from 2006 to 2011.

The president is correct that the high-school dropout rate hit a record low, but that continues a trend that preceded his presidency:

Perhaps in the minds of his fans, President Obama is hitting .333.

The president’s saying something that isn’t true isn’t really surprising anymore. What these lines indicate is that no one around him bothers to check or update the standard fundraiser-speech applause lines, that a lot of what the president “knows” is not actually true, and that his fan base doesn’t really care or bother to check if the condition of the country is getting better under their preferred policies; they simply take it on faith that everything is working out as intended.

Tags: Barack Obama , Education

Does the Government Still Have ‘Unmistakable Confidence’ in Americans’ Ability to Hear the Worst?



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Also from today’s Morning Jolt:

The PR-Obsessed Presidency and Governmental Competence

The Los Angeles Times’s Doyle McManus:

The Secret Service can’t protect the White House. Public health authorities can’t get their arms around a one-man Ebola outbreak. The army we trained in Iraq collapsed as soon as it was attacked by Islamic extremists, and our own veterans can’t get the care they need at VA hospitals. And, lest we forget, it was only a year ago that the White House rolled out its national health insurance program, only to see its website grind to a halt.

Before making a useful point, McManus rather easily swallows this explanation for the cavalcade of incompetence and failure:

One basic problem, [public-policy scholar Linda Bilmes] said, is that the federal government’s personnel system is mired in antiquated civil service rules. “You can’t move people around; you can’t pay more to retain your best people; you can’t easily get rid of people you need to get rid of.” Additionally, she noted, “the pay at the top of the scale is inadequate to attract the best and the brightest into government, and as the old saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. It’s very demoralizing.”

But fixing those problems won’t be easy, if only because doing so would require bipartisan cooperation in Congress — and increasing the salaries of federal bureaucrats, even if that would make for better management, isn’t a popular cause in either party.

Really?

Even if “the pay at the top of the scale” isn’t enough for “the best and brightest,” let’s observe that federal workers get two humongous perks compared to their private-sector workers: First, their benefits, particularly pensions and health-care plans, are stable and generous:

In a telephone press briefing in August, Sheldon Friedman, the chairman of OPM’s Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee, said the data doesn’t exist to compare benefits. However, he added: “Certainly it is true on average the benefits in the federal government are superior to the average for the private sector workforce, but that workforce include many millions who probably have no benefits whatsoever.”

More than 21,000 retired federal workers enjoy pensions of more than $100,000 per year.

Secondly, federal-government workers are very, very, very rarely laid off.

Yes, you don’t see a lot of millionaires working for the government. But you also see a lot of high five-figure and low six-figure jobs. (Allegedly nearly more than 450,000 federal workers make more than $100,000.) The federal government isn’t where you go work if you want to become wealthy, but it is a place to go work if you want to make what most Americans would consider to be a good living.

The idea that government incompetence would go away if we just paid them better is the sort of idea . . . eh, who am I kidding, you saw this plug coming a mile away.

Now, on to the useful point in McManus’s column:

Elaine Kamarck, another Clinton administration veteran now at the Brookings Institution, is tougher on President Obama . . . 

The clearest proof: “They keep getting surprised by stuff. And the surprise is almost worse than anything else. It conveys the sense that the White House doesn’t know what its own government is doing.” . . . 

“Today, presidents travel nonstop and talk nonstop,” she said. “That wasn’t always true. This addiction to PR has been terrible for the presidency. Every hour he’s on the campaign trail is an hour he could be talking with members of Congress. My advice to any president would be: Stop talking. Start working.”

The term “addiction to PR” is a good, brief way to characterize the way this administration goes about its job.

The recent Ken Burns documentary about the Roosevelts featured a striking moment from early in World War Two, where President Roosevelt felt the need to prepare the American public for bad news to come:

We have most certainly suffered losses — from Hitler’s U-boats in the Atlantic as well as from the Japanese in the Pacific — and we shall suffer more of them before the turn of the tide. But, speaking for the United States of America, let me say once and for all to the people of the world: We Americans have been compelled to yield ground, but we will regain it. We and the other United Nations are committed to the destruction of the militarism of Japan and Germany. We are daily increasing our strength. Soon, we and not our enemies will have the offensive; we, not they, will win the final battles; and we, not they, will make the final peace.

That’s from FDR’s fireside chat of February 23, 1942. Did we, the American public, lose our ability to hear bad news from our presidents? Or did our presidents lose the courage to tell us the bad news, preferring to hope we’ll miss the hard truths in a fog of gauzy promises and happy talk?

Also note this section about the public and the government trusting each other about information:

Your Government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst, without flinching or losing heart. You must, in turn, have complete confidence that your Government is keeping nothing from you except information that will help the enemy in his attempt to destroy us. In a democracy there is always a solemn pact of truth between Government and the people; but there must also always be a full use of discretion and that word “discretion” applies to the critics of Government, as well.

This is war. The American people want to know, and will be told, the general trend of how the war is going. But they do not wish to help the enemy any more than our fighting forces do; and they will pay little attention to the rumor-mongers and the poison peddlers in our midst.

Does the American government still have “unmistakable confidence” in Americans’ ability to hear the worst?

The skill set you need to get elected president is completely different from the skill set you need to be a successful president. But if we really want a federal government to return to something resembling basic competence in the near future, we should consider the candidates’ ability to manage something larger than their own campaigns.

Tags: Government , the Presidency , Barack Obama

How Presidential Security Can Slow Down Medivacs



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The U.S. Secret Service is getting much-deserved scrutiny for unforgivable blunders in White House security. Sometimes that scrutiny comes with unfair accusations of malicious motives:

Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, told Face the Nation that an overwhelming majority of African Americans he’s spoken to fear the Secret Service has fallen down on protecting President Barack Obama because of his race, something Cummings said he didn’t personally believe.

“Eighty-five percent of all African-Americans that come to me mention [this fear], and I don’t agree with it,” said Cummings, who was vocal about the need for former Director Julia Pierson to resign.

But it’s worth reviewing whether the precautions for protecting the president go too far in the other direction; a letter to the editor in today’s Wall Street Journal indicates how the American president increasingly is treated like an emperor:

For the president’s visit to Chicago last week to campaign for Gov. Pat Quinn, the skies around the city (more than 6,000 square miles) were effectively shutdown to nonscheduled aircraft operations. A presidential visit means that flight training, sky diving, hot-air ballooning, banner towing, sightseeing, maintenance test flights and utility/pipeline surveying operations are all canceled. Sorry to all the “regular folks” whose livelihoods depend on these activities—the $30,000 or $50,000 per plate fundraiser takes precedence. Perhaps even more concerning is that all emergency flights (including medevacs) have to call an air-traffic-control phone number before takeoff to request permission and to “avoid potential delays.”

As Mr. Ripp points out, the need for presidential security is understandable and important, but it becomes maddening when so many are inconvenienced or outright harmed for the sake of fundraising.

 

Tags: Barack Obama , U.S. Secret Service

What Is With Our President?



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From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

What Is With Our President?

Contemplating President Obama’s confident – and erroneous – assurance that Ebola was unlikely to reach America, and that if it did, America’s hospitals and doctors were prepared to diagnose and respond immediately — a veteran speechwriter for cabinet officials wrote in:

In the times that I was involved in speeches for various folks in the previous administration they and those around him were highly attuned to hyperbole and statements such the one Obama made about Ebola.  Now people can crack wise about Iraqi intelligence and the like, but from my experience those officials and senior advisers I dealt with always were asking:  “Is this right?” “Should I be saying this?”  “Can I say this? Or should I say be saying it another way?”  “I don’t want to be out on that limb.”   I get no sense that anyone over there [in the Obama White House] ever asks those questions — about speeches, timing of remarks, guests who surround him for said utterances, etc. 

To illustrate his point, as the Ebola case in Dallas and ISIS advance in Iraq and Syria dominated the headlines, President Obama went to Northwestern University in Chicago and offered a speech on the economy, hitting all the familiar notes: student loans, raising the minimum wage, extend unemployment benefits.

Pivot to the economy. Again. He also declared, “while good, affordable health care might seem to be a fanged threat to freedom on Fox News, it turns out its ’s working pretty well in the real world.” Polls of the American public say otherwise, Mr. President!

Granted, we don’t want our president panicking on camera when ominous news strikes. But even his defenders would have to admit that Obama increasingly offers strangely muted, disconnected, or listless responses to frightening news developments. The day the plane was shot down over Ukraine, he offered some pro-forma comments before his well-worn infrastructure speech, then continued on to his scheduled fundraisers. He went to Texas for a series of fundraisers but refused to visit the border at the height of the humanitarian crisis of unattended children entering the United States. He denounced the beheading of an American, then immediately headed off to the golf course.

Yesterday we noted Ace’s assessment that Obama says “Nothing to see here, folks, move on” to everything.  There are four possible explanations for Obama’s perpetual, “relax, there’s no real crisis here, we’ve got this” tone, no matter the circumstance…

Explanation One: “No-drama Obama” doesn’t have a “crisis mode.” He’s spent his adult life in so many relatively calm, methodical, slow-paced institutions — academia, state legislature, part-time law career, the U.S. Senate — that he can’t move or work fast. He’s perpetually deliberative, taking his time, getting sucked into “analysis paralysis”, looking for that elusive final piece of information that will clarify it all, ultimately basing his decision upon “what the experts say.” (This means he needs reliable experts – not a HHS Secretary not being honest about the state of Healthcare.gov, a VA Secretary unaware of abuses within his own department, and so on.)

On CNN, at the height of the VA scandal, Gloria Border quoted an unidentified former White House staffer saying, “People don’t like to tell him bad news. Part of it is the no-drama culture.”

On a related note, whatever great analytical ability Obama may have once had, it’s deteriorated… Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker offered a fascinating in-depth article about how the Obama White House makes decisions… that suggested by the time the issue reached the president’s desk, the decision had already been narrowed down to a few similar options. Mickey Kaus summarized:  

The President’s decision-making method–at least as described in the piece–seems to consist mainly of checking boxes on memos his aides have written for him. … He’s asked about including medical malpractice reform in his health care bill, and writes (“in his characteristicaly cautious and reasonable style”) that “we should explore it.”  … He’s presented a plan for a watered-down tax on multinationals or a very watered down tax. He writes “worth discussing.” …

I’m sure Obama is smarter than this. He can’t be an executive who spends his days checking boxes, accepting the choices presented by his aides, never reaching outside them through unconventional channels or reaching unconventional thinkers, never throwing over the framework with which he is presented.

The presidency is on autopilot, with policy and decisions largely set by the staff. Of course, the second-term administration team is considerably weaker than the first-term team. 

Explanation Two: He does recognize how bad things are, but he realizes the only thing keeping his poll numbers above 40 is the public’s short attention span and people’s ability to tune out bad news. So no matter what happens, he HAS to act like it’s no big deal, so that everyone can go about their business. The problem with this theory is that we would see or hear tales of Obama directing a behind-the-scenes crisis response from this White House.

In fact, it’s the opposite; the lower-level folks seem more concerned than the bosses. Eli Lake reports a strange inertia:

Within the American government, the threat was considered serious enough that the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command—the Pentagon’s elite hunter-killers—prepared detailed targeting packages for the group, with the specific locations of the group’s leaders. But those plans never made it to the White House, according to senior U.S. intelligence and Pentagon leaders…

“The senior leadership in the military didn’t want to ask the question when they knew the answer would be ‘no,’” said the senior U.S. intelligence official quoted earlier about why the targeting packages were not sent to the White House in June.

Explanation Three: Obama experienced some sort of psychological breakdown or “snapping” and is now reacting to serious problems in completely inappropriate ways, such as saying out loud how he would advise ISIS, etc. 

Remember back in 2011:

We’re told by a source inside the Times that the paper is preparing a story arguing that Obama no longer finds joy in the political back-and-forth, has seemed increasingly listless to associates, and is generally exhibiting the litany of signs that late-night cable commercials will tell you add up to depression. 

Explanation Four: He’s too wedded to his previous stances and conclusions to realize when he’s made a mistake and adjust his approach. As my speechwriter friend concludes, “When your boss has told you – and the world – that he is the smartest guy in the room (“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director”) and even if you don’t believe it, it’s pretty difficult to tell the smartest guy in the room that he is wrong or perhaps might want to rethink something.  Then again, if the smartest guy in the room didn’t bother to get the memo, let alone read it, then it all makes for the perfect storm.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Ebola

President Obama’s Meaningless ‘Full Confidence’



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Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama has “strong confidence” in the U.S. Ebola patient’s medical care and the measures currently in place to prevent Ebola’s spread.

Of course, on Monday, Earnest said, “The President does have full confidence in Director Pierson and other members of the Secret Service to do their very important work.”

The president accepted the resignation of U.S. Secret Service director Julia Pierson on Wednesday.

Tags: Barack Obama , Secret Service , Ebola

Why Aren’t We Stopping Flights from Countries With Ebola?



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From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why Aren’t We Stopping Flights from Countries With Ebola?

What’s the upside in continuing to permit U.S. air travel from countries with Ebola outbreaks right now, like Sierra Leone, Guinea, or Liberia?

I’m sure if your business travel takes you to these places, you could be quite inconvenienced. I’m sure if you have family there, this, too, would make life more difficult. (Mind you, while the American government can stop air travel in between the U.S. and another country, there’s nothing stopping someone in one of those countries traveling to some other country and then getting a connecting flight to here.)

Hmmm.

Several African nations have restricted or banned air travel from Ebola-stricken countries, and airlines including Kenya Airways, British Airways, Air Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria’s Arik Air have suspended flights from the countries. Front Page Africa reported on Wednesday, though, that Kenya Airways and Air Cote D’Ivoire are expected to resume some of their so-called “Ebola flights” this month.

Others airlines have greatly reduced air travel in the region. Some of that is a natural consequence of the fact that few people, save for aid workers and government officials, are traveling in and out of the region.

Add Air France to that list.

The Washington Post continues:

“It is not an optimal measure for controlling the import of Ebola virus disease,” said chief United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. “The measure does not reflect what is known about the way in which the virus passes between people.”

The U.S. has also similarly spurned travel restrictions in the face of a more infectious, though less deadly, disease like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) for similar reasons, even when sick passengers were coming to the U.S.

If someone isn’t exhibiting symptoms of Ebola, that person is not infectious. And one of the first symptoms of Ebola is a fever. In airports in all of the affected regions and across the world, passengers coming from flights from West Africa are being screened for elevated temperatures.

Okay, stop right there. That clearly didn’t work in this case.

Despite the fact that an infected passenger flew from Liberia to Dallas this month, that passenger was not sick — and was therefore not contagious — while he was traveling. And once people become symptomatic, they become very sick, very quickly.

Yes, but this means the infected person is walking around here in the United States for X amount of time before going to a doctor and getting diagnosed. And once sick, they’re contagious.

Over at Ace of Spades, Open Blogger contends:

My point is that a travel ban to the US would only work if the rest of North and Central America follow suit. I don’t know if that can be made to happen, and I also don’t know if the folks in charge are willing to undertake something that might be construed as racially motivated.

We were recently assured . . . 

I want the American people to know that our experts, here at the CDC and across our government, agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low. We’ve been taking the necessary precautions, including working with countries in West Africa to increase screening at airports so that someone with the virus doesn’t get on a plane for the United States. In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home.

“Unlikely,” huh?

Ace, himself:

Meanwhile, even Chris Matthews wants to know why President I Got This told the American public that it was “unlikely” that Ebola would reach America’s shores.

Allah disputes the “unlikelihood” of it — all we’re doing is checking people for fever. That’s a symptom that might not present itself for days after the actual infection.

So why would Obama say this?

Because he says “Nothing to see here, folks, move on” to everything. He is worried how worries will affect him politically, so he does nothing but offer empty — and often outright false — assurances that he’s on top of everything.

Late Wednesday, the airlines released the patient’s flight details:

Details of the man’s 28-hour trip from western Africa emerged Wednesday. He flew on two airlines, took three flights, and had lengthy airport layovers before reaching Texas on Sept. 20.

Still, federal officials say other passengers on the flights are at no risk of infection because the man had no symptoms at the time of his trip.

The patient, identified as Thomas Eric Duncan by CBS Dallas station KTVT, left Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 19 aboard a Brussels Airlines jet to the Belgian capital, according to a Belgian official. After layover of nearly seven hours, he boarded United Airlines Flight 951 to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. After another layover of nearly three hours, he then flew Flight 822 from Dulles to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the airline confirmed.

Finally . . . remember the de facto travel ban to Israel?

Tags: Ebola , Barack Obama

Oh, Look, a Presidential Statement on Ebola Didn’t Pan Out.



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President Obama, September 16: 

I want the American people to know that our experts, here at the CDC and across our government, agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low.  We’ve been taking the necessary precautions, including working with countries in West Africa to increase screening at airports so that someone with the virus doesn’t get on a plane for the United States.  In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home. 

As I wrote in August:

[Statements like this] would be more reassuring if our government hadn’t already gotten into the habit of assuring us “all is well” when it clearly wasn’t — i.e., former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano assuring us “the system worked” in the case of the underwear bomber, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest recently speaking of the administration “substantially improving” the “tranquility of the global community,” Obama’s May boast that “our ability to mobilize international opinion rapidly has changed the balance and the equation in Ukraine” or his 2012 declaration that the private sector is “doing fine.” The problem with multiple years of implausible spin and happy talk is that when you tell the truth on an important matter, you can’t dispel the doubts.

Americans aren’t really sure their government is giving them the whole story. They have good reason for that wariness.

Tags: Barack Obama , Ebola

Barack Obama and the Difference Between Attaining Office and Attaining Power



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Like most months of any other year, little changed in the nature of the cosmos on January of 2013. The planets continued to revolve about the sun. Aggregate prices were still a function of the economic laws of supply and demand. The geopolitical world still operated by the Hobbesian realities of balance of power and spheres of influence. And unicorns still did not exist. As it happens none of these features of the cosmos changed, even though America had just elected a president to a second term whose policies seemed to operate as though they had.

After almost six years, the effects of the administration’s decision tree has cascaded through the universe of logical causality and culminated into the storm of global crises which we are now watching unfold. And while it’s tempting to say that there simply was no way of anticipating events, anyone who revisits certain presidential debates and speeches in 2012 will be surprised to find that either Mitt Romney was endowed with great prophetic powers, or more plausibly that, as Dan Balz’s book Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections In America shows us, a state of the art campaign apparatus combined with a healthy dose of political cynicism, and an unintentionally cooperative rival, can salvage even the most misguided of candidacies.  But an examination of that campaign victory in light of the subsequent failures of the Obama administration points to a larger problem which is that our political culture and its predisposition to privilege candidates with a mastery over the politics of perception has cultivated a leadership class that is particularly ill-disposed to governing in a world of harsh truths.

This is not to say that the Obama administration isn’t capable of adapting to inconvenient realities. In the aftermath of the president’s “shellacking” in the 2010 midterms Obama’s campaign team, led by Jim Messina, realized that success in 2012 meant leaving the “Yes we can” optimism of the 2008 election behind and instead “develop and refine a message that somehow leapfrogged the debate about the current state of the economy” to a narrative that would “disqualify their opponent.” As their research in the battleground states revealed, however, this would not be easy.

 I haven’t had a raise in five years. I’m paying more for health insurance and getting less. My 401(k) that was supposed to be the reward for doing everything the right way is gone. I am sick and tired of giving bailouts to the folks at the top and handouts to the folks at the bottom. I’m going to fire people until my life gets better.

These were the words from one man in Des Moines, Iowa, which captured the sentiment in the surveys performed by Obama’s team. What is perhaps most revealing about how Obama and his team responded to this feedback is how little it affected the president’s own views of his own leadership. Balz writes,

In all other ways, Obama resisted interpretations that suggested shortcomings on his part. Not the big health care initiative that had divided the country. Not the government spending that so many independents objected to. Not the distance that now existed between the country and a younger leader whom so many Americans had embraced with such passion just two years earlier.

This predisposition of the Obama administration to avoid harsh self-scrutiny seems to be not just limited to matters of political temperament. After almost six years it appears to be a central tenet of his administration’s pattern of decision making. In one of the more insightful post-mortems on the mismanaged Obamacare roll-out, Healthcare.gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality, Clay Shirky, a subject matter expert on the technology of the internet, observed that the administration demonstrated a classic feature of dysfunctional leadership: the natural tendency to confuse what is desirable with reality, that behind the failures of the roll-out of Healthcare.gov lay an organizational culture that was unwilling to submit its assumptions to the very necessary, and humbling, experience of product testing.

The management question, when trying anything new, is “When does reality trump planning?” For the officials overseeing Healthcare.gov, the preferred answer was “Never.” Every time there was a chance to create some sort of public experimentation, or even just some clarity about its methods and goals, the imperative was to avoid giving the opposition anything to criticize.

Recent accounts of the administration’s decision making process regarding ISIS and the Middle East appear to reinforce an image of epistemic closure in the presidential decision making process.  Among recent criticisms includes those of the president’s previous Secretaries of Defense Bob Gates and Leon Pannetta, and divulges that the decision to withdraw troops from Iraq and avoid involvement in Syria was decided against military recommendations, and in the latter case against the recommendation of his entire national security staff. For all of the military expertise that counseled the president otherwise, it seemed the president refused in deference to a vision of an America and a geopolitics that has since been proven to have insufficient contact with realities on the ground.  As has already been noted by his critics, many of Obama’s second term mistakes appear to share a common family resemblance: a refusal to submit cherished preconceptions to the facts of reality.

But if 2012 is any indication, what fails in governance appears to succeed in our political culture. When the Obama team had completed their research in anticipation of the 2012 election much of what they learned wasn’t surprising: frustration of the middle class, a sense of grievance toward the government’s apparent indifference to their plight, a willingness to vote the president out if the Republican alternative looked more promising. However, on this last point there was good news for the Obama team.

In October of 2011, the campaign had conducted focus groups in three battleground states – Ohio, Florida, and New Hampshire – and had shown participants a famous photo taken of Romney and his partners at Bain as they were forming the company. They were holding dollar bills and smiling broadly, and more bills were stuffed in their pockets and in their mouths and in their shirt collars. After seeing that Messina said, “People were like, ‘Game Over.’

While the Romney campaign lamely attempted to find their range against their rival, the Obama team capitalized on the opportunities Romney represented as a caricature in their political melodrama.

No one expected Campaign 2012 to be positive, or uplifting. But what was most striking at that point in the race was not just the negativity or the sheer volume of attack ads raining down on voters in the swing states. It was the sense that all restraints were gone, the guardrails had disappeared, and there was no incentive for anyone to hold back.

The caricatures of Romney as industrialist villain became so over the top Democratic leaders with ties to industry and finance began to make noise about the Obama campaign’s strategy. But the strategy worked. What informed much of the Obama team’s success was the understanding that political campaigns are more about emotional catharsis than policy and leadership. When the Washington Post came out with their exit poll of the election, under the section “Which one of these four candidate qualities mattered most in deciding how you voted for president?” Obama only beat Romney in one of the four categories, but by 63%. The category was “Cares for people like me.”  Dan Balz quotes Kevin Madden from the Romney campaign, “We were teaching an economics class, they were writing love songs.”

But along the way, reality disrupted the psychodrama, however briefly.  Looking back at the events of Benghazi we now know that it wasn’t a blip but a foreshadowing of what would transpire in the second term of the soon to be re-elected president.  On the day after Ambassador Stevens and three other American’s were killed Mitt Romney would be roundly criticized for the cynical impulsiveness of making a public statement that included these, now rather apt, observations.

The attacks in Libya and Egypt underscore that the world remains a dangerous place and that American leadership is still sorely needed. In the face of this violence, America cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead. American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don’t spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests.

As controversies go, the Benghazi affair has proven to be the box of chocolates that keeps on giving. Journalist Sharyl Attkisson leaves CBS because of what she characterizes as internal stonewalling against her investigation. Edward Klein in his recent expose Blood Feud: The Clintons vs the Obamas claims to have two witnesses that can confirm that, according to Bill Clinton, Hillary was given direct instructions by president Obama to mislead the public as to the cause of Benghazi. More recently a State Department official has come out to confirm that Hillary had directed her department to conceal incriminating documents.

But rather than litigate Benghazi, it is perhaps more instructive to draw the larger implications about our political situation from the fact that, in an election that was ultimately determined by emotivist theatre, global realities interfered with the festivities only to be unceremoniously escorted off the national stage so that the political melodrama could proceed.

In the end what won was a politics that by virtue of good theatre and a great ground game aggregated enough votes from voters sympathetic to the boutique political interests of the center-left. What won, in other words, was a strategy that capitalized on the dynamics of a culture under the influence of what I described in my previous post as the Politicized Soul. In the end of that article I write that our politics of passionate distraction “has slowly surrendered this world to forces more practically minded and less sympathetic to the freedoms we seem determined to take for granted.” As I post this, reports are that Putin has already made noise about expanding his European ambitions, Jihadi recruiting continues to go wonderfully in Europe, ISIS forces are now one mile out of Baghdad, and the president continues to ignore what we learned in the Surge and insist on a strategy which, in its reliance on air support and no prominent role for American troops, bears an unfortunate resemblance to his catastrophic approach in Libya.

In many ways 2012 was a crystallization of a politics fixated on empathy and evasive of the realities of the larger world. But what wins in such elections fails in practical policy, and therein lies the fundamental difference between attaining office and attaining power. If the qualities that ensure electoral victory are the same qualities that ensure blindness to practical realities then even the resources of the United States will prove an inadequate defense against the facts of the real world. And try as we might, electing candidates with a talent for geopolitical wishful thinking will not make it otherwise. The fact that we seem to think so tells us that, ultimately, this isn’t a problem about a particular politician, but our political class and our culture.

Tags: Barack Obama

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